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Crunch Time

Keshav Maharaj: 'When I retire I'm going to stuff myself with all of my mom's cooking'

The South Africa spinner and foodie on learning to eat healthy, the pineapple-on-pizza debate, and why you should try to cadge a dinner invitation to his place

Daniel Gallan
Keshav Maharaj and Vernon Philander forged a century stand  India v South Africa, 2nd Test, Pune, 3rd day, October 12, 2019

"I reward myself with a cup of juice if I've had three litres of water in the day"  •  Rajanish Kakade/Associated Press

Would you call yourself a foodie?
Definitely. Coming from an Asian household, you get fed a lot. But I needed to lose weight if I wanted a career in cricket. I needed to find healthier options without sacrificing my enjoyment for food. I found a balance through trial and error.
Did you struggle with your weight?
My [Dolphins] coach, Lance Klusener, said I needed to lose around five kilos, otherwise I'd have trouble getting selected. Previously I didn't make the South Africa Under-19 team because of my weight. I'd had a dad bod since I was 13. I would get changed in the bathroom because I was so self-conscious.
I took it on board and lost 17.5 kilos in seven weeks. I was now confident. I didn't want to put a shirt back on. I want to play cricket until I'm 40. That's why I'm hard on the youngsters. I wouldn't want them to make the same mistakes I made.
Do you ever comfort-eat?
I don't, but I have a cheat meal. Once a week, my wife [Lerisha] and I get a pizza near our place in Durban. Our go-to is a butter-chicken pizza with crispy onions. If we're avoiding meat and milk for religious reasons, we get avocado and mushroom.
Does pineapple belong on a pizza?
Of course! It adds a great sweet element. But only after the pizza is cooked. Warm pineapple isn't recommended.
What's the unhealthiest thing in your fridge?
It's soft drinks, but they're not mine. Lerisha is a massive fan and has them with almost every meal.
There's nothing unhealthy on my side. I reward myself with a cup of juice if I've had three litres of water in the day. There's a lot of fruit, so maybe the sugar in the fruit is the unhealthiest thing I have. It's cherry season back home. I can sit the whole night and down them without thinking.
What's the one meal you'd cook to wow dinner guests?
You can't go wrong with seafood. I'd start with a tempura prawn dish with homemade sweet chilli sauce. Mains would be a pistachio-crusted salmon on a bed of wasabi sweet potato mash and a lemon butter sauce. Dessert would be a three layered chocolate mousse or a cheesecake. But Lerisha is the baking expert so she'd probably handle that.
Do you cook on tour?
It's easier when you're playing domestic cricket. I usually ask the team chef if I can play around in the kitchen. It's trickier with the Proteas but we have team building potjie (stew) competitions. I've won twice. First for a mushroom kadhai I learned in India and then for a chickpea masala I picked up in Pakistan.
What's your favourite snack during a game?
I like to be gourmet. You cut a banana in half, smother it in peanut butter and honey and top it with toasted hazelnuts. It's like a healthy Snickers and it keeps you full for hours.
Do you miss your mom's cooking?
All the time. Her dal, her bhajis, which she makes with wild mushroom, onion and chilli, and her extra-ghee roti. I haven't had them in years. When I retire I am going to stuff myself with all of it.

Daniel Gallan is a freelance journalist living in London. @danielgallan